American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
“Pocahontas" is the best-looking of the modern Disney animated features, and one of the more thoughtful: It is about real issues, even if it treats them with naive idealism. In its view, Native Americans lived in peaceful harmony with nature until European settlers came, bringing guns and ecological destruction. The Europeans, puffed up with their notions of civilization, did not realize how much they had to learn from the Indians.
Midway through the film, after Captain John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson) has thoughtlessly dismissed the ideas of the young Indian woman he loves, Pocahontas asks: "If the savage one is me, how can there be so much you don't know?" Then follows a musical sequence during which Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) takes Smith on a whirlwind tour of the forest. Because this is a Disney picture, the animals are of course all friends of the Indian maiden, who snatches a cute cub away from a mother bear - something that even my own limited woodcraft suggests is not prudent.
The message of "Pocahontas" is that arriving settlers despoiled the forests and imposed their own version of civilization, whether or not it was wanted. Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers), the blustering leader of the Virginia Company, is shown gleefully using cannons to level forests. And when the settlers open fire on the Indians, they retaliate by capturing John Smith and then prepare to execute him. Only Pocahontas, who can empathize with both sides, can save the day.
"Pocahontas" is based on myth, not history. In real life, Pocahontas was 11 or 12 when she first met John Smith (who claimed in his journals that his life was saved no less than three times by women who loved him). The Englishman she married was John Rolfe. She did indeed get to go to England, where she was feted as a princess.